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The most popular thing I have ever written is almost certainly this old blog post from November 2012, The Secret Meaning Behind In The Night Garden‘s Opening Words. Written after watching too many episodes of ITNG while my oldest (then my only) son had pneumonia, it was a mostly-joking-but-OK-maybe-not-completely look at whether Iggle Piggle is really a dying sailor hallucinating in his last moments.

This post gets a steady stream of hits every day with occasional surges in popularity. One of its biggest peaks was in October 2015 when comedian Jason Manford chanced upon it while watching ITNG with his daughter and basically thinking “what is this all about?”. He posted about it on Facebook, and thousands of people clicked the link. Many people agreed. Quite a few thought I was sick / bonkers.

To my great surprise I got an email this week from Jason’s Absolute Radio show producer asking if they could make a video based on the post. How funny that he still remembered it and was tickled by it after all this time!

The video was posted on the Absolute Radio Facebook page.

It was great hearing my words performed in a dramatic reading like this – and it was even better to read all the comments! By the way, Jason, I still think I should get a scriptwriter’s fee…. What do you reckon?

CODA: I almost crossed paths with Jason back in April 2014 when I was a reporter at the Birmingham Mail helping to cover Stephen Sutton’s inspirational fundraising. I had hoped to chat with him about his support for Stephen but on the very day I was trying to get hold of him he was actually visiting Stephen in hospital in Birmingham. I can’t believe that was nearly three years ago. Stephen, you were amazing. RIP.

 

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My Grandma passed away peacefully in her sleep on August 9th at the age of 94. I had the great honour of writing this eulogy, which was read at her funeral today. 

 

Grandma

Doris Irene Hay – also known as Mum, Auntie Doris, Auntie Doll, Grandma, Great-Grandma and Granny – was born in the Mother’s Hospital in Clapton on 19th July 1922 to Charles and Florence Webber.

The family lived in Dagenham in the early years before moving to Leyton. Doris and her two younger sisters, Marjory and Winifred, shared a room and used to chat long into the night – something which will not surprise anyone who knew them.

As a schoolgirl Doris enjoyed cookery, dressmaking and swimming, and was very proud of having jumped off the top diving board at Cathall Road swimming baths. She went to Girls Brigade and learned how to tie knots and do first aid.

Doris and her beloved Ted started courting when she was 16. The story goes that Doris was struggling along with a “heavy” case after a meeting of their church’s dramatic society, and being the gentleman that he was, Ted went to help her out, took the case and walked her home. The case turned out to be empty, and the rest was history.

Doris_and_Ted

They fell in love quickly and Ted wrote adoringly about her in his 1939 diary, describing her as “the sweetest girl in the world” and recording blissful evenings spent together in the park watching the sunset. They married in 1943 when she was 20 and he was 23.

Their flat was bombed during the war and the only thing left standing was a cupboard in which they put a few salvaged possessions which had been wedding presents, intending to collect them later. These were all stolen apart from a lilac glass plate, which was always kept in pride of place in a dresser in the living room.

Their son Frank came along in 1944 followed closely by Lynne in 1949 – and not so closely by Jenny in 1967, which was a big surprise for everyone!

All three siblings have fond memories of going “uptown” with their mum to see the sights, visiting unusual places like the Silver Vaults, enjoying – and sometimes not enjoying – lunchtime concerts and feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

Always a Londoner at heart even after moving next door to Lynne and Philip in Newcastle with Ted in 2005, Doris always loved listening to LBC on the radio and hearing the traffic reports from around her old haunts – particularly the Green Man roundabout in Leytonstone, which seemed to feature prominently.

Doris enjoyed visiting new places and spent many happy holidays with family members, often memorably squeezed into their car “Tilly”. For many years she and Ted went on a September break with her youngest sister Win and her husband Frank, where they each had their holiday jobs and routines – Frank was treasurer, Ted driver and entertainer, Doris navigator and researcher of places to visit, and Win organised the food. A particular highlight was always their morning treasure hunt for sweets.

Doris was renowned as a great cook and many family members associate particular foods with her. These include, for various reasons: lasagne; hedgehog birthday cakes with Matchmaker sticks for spines; ham and eggs; mashed potato; Christmas pudding; fish and chips; blackberries; bacon and tomato omelettes; chocolate steamed pudding with vanilla sauce; jellied eels; lychees; shepherd’s pie; cockles; brie; sugared almonds – and even a chicken casserole accidentally thickened with custard powder, which was, unusually but perhaps not surprisingly, delicious.

 

It’s also not surprising to find Doris at the heart of so many family memories. She helped care for her own mother who had multiple sclerosis, and was a warm, motherly figure to her nieces and nephew, and the many young people at the weekly church youth group she and Ted hosted in the 1960s.

She dearly loved her grandchildren Rebecca, Thomas, Hannah, Sam, Daniel and Gabriel, and great-grandchildren Féirín, Oisín, Alex and Christopher.

Grandma_and_ISupportive and caring, Doris faithfully attended concerts, encouraged musical instrument practice – requesting numerous songs and often singing along enthusiastically – provided wise counsel and read endless stories before her eyesight grew too poor. She also amazed the younger members of the family by appearing to float magically up the stairs on her stair lift.

Doris was a voracious reader – Ted had to log which books he brought home from the library to avoid repetition – and in recent years she enjoyed listening to audiobooks on her special player from the RNIB. She even had an iPad for her 90th birthday and mastered it well enough to be able to do what she wanted to do, including challenging the family to competitive games of Wordfeud. She was a big fan of Murder She Wrote, Songs of Praise, Strictly Come Dancing, CSI and Carols from Kings, and woe betide anyone who was insufficiently up-to-date on current affairs – even from her hospital bed she was grilling people on the outcome of the Brexit referendum vote. And as a big fan of watching sports of all kinds, she’ll be sorry to have missed the Olympics.

While she may have frequently berated Ted for “breathing too loudly” and rolled her eyes at the detailed Christmas to do lists that he started in September, their 69-year marriage has been an inspiration to all. Before Ted died in 2013 he told her that he was sure he would see her again. It is a great comfort to think of them reunited now – along with her two sisters and Ted’s five siblings – laughing that memorable laugh of hers. Thank you for everything, Doris. Rest in peace.

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Happy New Year! I thought I’d do a quick round-up of my most popular posts of 2014 (not including homepage/archives), even though I use this site as a portfolio rather than a blog at present.

In ascending order:

5. Life Stories

This page is about the short book I wrote with the National Memorial Arboretum a few years back.

4. A homemade deodorant recipe that really works

I use this every day and I hope this post about making your own nasty-free deodorant has inspired some people to give it a try.

3. Why I love my Mooncup (review)

Another “crunchy” post with more intimate information about me than you might want!

2. Where are the celebrities with epilepsy?

I’d still love to see someone famous “come out” as having epilepsy as I think this would have a real impact on raising awareness and combatting stigma. Epilepsy awareness is a real passion of mine.

1. The secret meaning behind In The Night Garden’s opening words

This was far and away the hottest post on my site with four times as many clicks as the next most popular. It seems a lot of people – particularly in Australia, for some reason – are also wondering whether Iggle Piggle might be dead.

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Happy New Year! I thought I’d do a quick round-up of my most popular posts during 2013, like so many others have done.

In ascending order:

5. My Grandpa

My Grandpa sadly died on January 8th, 2013, and this was my tribute to a wonderful man.

4. A homemade deodorant recipe that really works

I’ve fallen off the wagon slightly but I used to be very into natural and homemade products. I hope this post about making your own nasty-free deodorant has inspired some people to give it a try. I really ought to get back to this again.

3. About me

Ah, you must all be curious types – although, of course, this also serves as my homepage…

2. The secret meaning behind In The Night Garden’s opening words

It seems a lot of people – particularly in Australia, for some reason – are also wondering whether Iggle Piggle might be dead.

1. Where are the celebrities with epilepsy?

A hot question, and one I still can’t answer. I’d love to see someone famous “come out” in 2014 as having epilepsy as I think this would have a real impact on raising awareness and combatting stigma.

 

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Some time ago, I was at a workshop with about 11 colleagues. We were asked who our heroes or role models were, and not one of us – not one! – could think of an answer. Put on the spot, the only person I could think of was Myleene Klass, and much as I admire Myleene – she is lovely and clever and pretty and talented after all – I knew that I did not want to go on the record as saying that the ex-Hear’say singer was my hero, no matter how nice and glossy her hair is.

The question of why none of us could think of a hero or role model preyed on my mind. Now, if I could go back to that seminar room, I would say, without hesitation, that my role model is my Grandpa, Ted Hay, who passed away peacefully today at the age of 93.

My Grandpa, pictured in 2007 with the first painting he had accepted into the Three Counties Open Art Exhibition at Keele University

My Grandpa, pictured in 2007 with the first painting he had accepted into the Three Counties Open Art Exhibition at Keele University

The best way to describe him is that he was a gentleman, and a gentle man. He belonged to the age where people still wrote letters, lovely handwritten letters with beautiful cursive penmanship, which filled pages and pages with news and observations about the world around us. His letters helped me fight off the homesickness that struck when I first moved abroad, the words bringing me closer to my loved ones. I come across these letters every so often and always marvel at the love within them. In an age where e-mails can be dashed off in seconds, a letter is still something to be treasured. If my Grandpa enjoyed a show at the theatre, he wrote to thank them. If someone gave him good service somewhere, he wrote to express his gratitude. I still remember (probably getting on for 30 years later) writing a letter with him to the BBC thanking them for screening the cartoon The Blue Danube (of course, you can just get it on YouTube now!), which had delighted me. Every year I make the resolution to write more letters but I never manage it – I really must try harder. I’ll do it for him.

My Grandpa could probably have told me exactly when it was that we wrote that letter to the BBC – every day he kept a diary of everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. If you wanted to know what he had for breakfast on a particular day 19 years ago he could probably have found out! But there are gems in there too, full of happy memories. When I was planning my wedding six years ago, Grandpa was able to look back and give a round-up of the weather on April 21 through the years. His forecast for the day was, of course, spot on. Since March last year I have also been writing up my days in a five-year diary, just like Grandpa’s.

He was enthusiastic about everything, from his weekly art class to the handmade cards he made for every special occasion, from gardening to jokes, from Tom and Jerry to the Vicar of Dibley. It was wonderful to watch him with my younger cousins and know that we used to do the same things when I was their age, like growing vegetables together or having story time. He may have been slower, but the twinkle in his eye was just the same. And seeing him gleefully banging a metal tray with a wooden spoon to the delight of my baby son, the next generation, was a real treat.

Little anecdotes – that the fact that my Grandpa’s former girlfriend desperately tried to win him back after he proposed to my Grandma – really help to remind me that my grandparents were young once too and I find it fascinating. My grandparents were married for almost 70 years and complemented each other in every way. I only hope that my husband and I will be able to emulate them, an inspiration, two halves of the same whole.

You should not have underestimated the will of this gentle man – his strong beliefs lead him to be a conscientious objector during the war, along with his brothers. His brothers served time in jail for their stance, and he said he wished had done the same rather than work on the ambulances. Even in the chaos of wartime London, my Grandpa’s aim was to protect and conserve life. A Methodist lay preacher, he stood by the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, in the face of what must have resulted in great social stigmatisation. He didn’t talk about it, and neither did we. Nor did we really talk about the fact that he planned to leave his body to medical research, until it had to be discussed. Even now that he is no longer with us his care for others continues.

Grandpa claimed the only “heroic” event in his life was when he was a six-year-old page boy at his cousin’s wedding dressed in a white satin suit. The dressmaker – either by design or accident – left a row of pins in the trousers and everyone thought Grandpa was such a good boy to stand so still, although the truth was he had no choice.

But Grandpa, as far as I am concerned you were a hero through and through. If I can try to live up to your standards and be even half the person you were, I will have done well. Thank you for everything. I will miss you so much.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

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